The Buffalo Bills currently employ roughly 60 players who could make a legitimate case for being on the team’s 53-man roster.
It’s an incredibly deep group, one that’s arguably among the deepest in the NFL. This is perhaps to be expected out of a team with Super Bowl ambitions, but the sheer number of NFL-caliber players currently on the roster is nothing short of astounding.
And a number of these players will be cut in the coming days.
The team’s depth chart seems set at most positions, but there are still a few jobs to be won at the bottom of the roster. Though the team will undoubtedly have to part ways with a number of good players on cutdown day, a few of them can secure their spot on the roster, or play themselves into greater roles, with a strong preseason finale.
Here are the five players with the most to gain in the Bills’ upcoming matchup with the Green Bay Packers.
WR Steven Sims
He hasn’t even been with the Bills organization long enough to develop a unique handshake with Josh Allen, but with a strong outing against the Packers, Steven Sims could work his way onto Buffalo’s Week 1 roster.
Sims, whom the Bills claimed off waivers Wednesday, is an electric athlete who has found some recent success with the Washington Football Team. He made their roster after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2019, suiting up in 28 games for the team from 2019-2020. He returned 30 punts and 35 kicks throughout that span, averaging 6.2 and 24.6 yards per return, respectively, while also catching 61 passes for 575 yards and five scores on offense.
Sims’ athletic ability and level of talent are not causes for concern. His consistency, however, is. He dropped four passes as a rookie, following that up with another four drops in 2020, per Pro Football Focus. These consistency concerns also stretch over into special teams, as he muffed three punts last season, according to PFF.
It’s not as though Sims can’t make up for his mistakes – his most exciting highlight, a 91-yard kick return for a score in 2019, stems from a drop – but the bottom line is that the mistakes are still being made.
While the 2021 season would ideally be a developmental one for Sims, he may be the beneficiary of circumstance. Presumptive returner Isaiah McKenzie injured his shoulder at Tuesday’s practice, and while Marquez Stevenson, who returned a punt for a touchdown on an injured foot against the Bears, returned to practice on Thursday, both of their Week 1 statuses are unknown.
There’s a possibility that Sims will be returning the vast majority – if not all – of the Packers’ kicks and punts on Saturday. If he flashes (i.e., catches the ball and picks up at least small chunks of yardage), Buffalo may keep Sims around for at least Week 1 as McKenzie and Stevenson work back towards full health. If not, expect the Bills to try to sneak Sims on their practice squad, something that may prove to be difficult.
After all, he’s already failed to clear waivers once.
Steven Sims kick return for TD pic.twitter.com/pG9R8Nf0Mp
— smart football guy (@billsfilmstuff) August 26, 2021
LB Tyrel Dodson
Tyrel Dodson has done enough to make Buffalo’s 53-man roster, but he finds himself on the bubble due to the numbers game.
The third-year linebacker has looked solid throughout the first two preseason games, effectively shooting gaps to the tune of six total tackles. He’s allowed just three receptions on six targets in coverage, per PFF, this while also tallying two run stops. He’s additionally taken 18 special teams snaps, overall looking like a competent NFL player worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster.
The issue is, on a roster as deep as Buffalo’s, ‘competent’ may not be good enough.
Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are both roster locks at linebacker, with A.J. Klein and Tyler Matakevich nearly falling into that category, as well. Andre Smith has also broken out this preseason, showcasing the ranginess and athleticism that Buffalo’s coaching staff likes out of its linebackers. This, combined with the fact that he played on 48% of the team’s special teams snaps last season, makes Smith a near roster lock.
This leaves Dodson as the front runner for a sixth-linebacker spot that may not exist.
The Bills’ defensive line is incredibly deep, to the point that the team could realistically keep 11 players at the position. Combine this with the possibility of keeping a sixth cornerback, and you likely have a hard cap at five linebackers. If this is the case, Dodson is the odd man out.
Dodson is certainly talented enough to warrant a roster spot, but he may be left on the outside looking in simply due to how the rest of the roster shakes out. If he shines against Green Bay, he could force the team’s hand even further, transforming himself from a player that’s difficult to part ways with to one that’s impossible to cut.
DL Boogie Basham
Buffalo’s defensive line has been nothing short of stellar throughout the preseason. A.J. Epenesa and Greg Rousseau have shined, with the former consistently generating pressure with his speed and technique and the latter notching two sacks thanks to his power, length, and athleticism. Offseason acquisition Efe Obada has shown promise while Darryl Johnson, for the first time in his career, is showing consistent prowess as a pass-rusher.
A bit lost in this mix has been second-round pick Boogie Basham. He hasn’t necessarily been poor throughout the first two preseason games, but he’s been underwhelming compared to his counterparts. He showed a bit of promise in Week 2 after failing to impress in Week 1, but he still doesn’t appear to be Buffalo’s first-choice option at any position.
Epenesa, Rousseau, Jerry Hughes, and Mario Addison are firmly above him on the depth chart at defensive end. He’s not even the team’s first-choice ‘big-defensive-end-who-can-periodically-kick-inside,’ as that role belongs to Obada. He also does not appear to possess the same special teams ability as Darryl Johnson, a defensive end who played on more than 50 percent of the team’s special teams snaps last season.
As of right now, it looks as though Basham will be a gameday inactive for the first part of his rookie season due largely to the fact that there are six defensive ends above him who have more entrenched roles. This will likely remain the case regardless of his performance against Green Bay, but he could push Obada for a gameday active spot with a strong preseason finale.
Both Rachad Wildgoose and Nick McCloud find themselves in situations similar to that of Tyrel Dodson.
Both rookies have shown flashes this preseason, but they may be competing for a roster spot that isn’t there.
Wildgoose, in particular, has shown flashes of ability, bouncing back from a horrid Week 1 outing to impress in Week 2. He deflected a pass intended for Bears’ receiver Riley Ridley along the sideline shortly before breaking up a pass over the middle of the field. After giving up three receptions on three targets in Week 1, he allowed just one reception for seven yards in Week 2, per PFF.
McCloud has also impressed at times, giving up just two receptions on five targets, according to PFF, while allowing a passer rating of just 8.3. He even intercepted an Andy Dalton pass late in the first half of Buffalo’s dominant win over Chicago.
While the Bills would likely love to carry a fourth boundary corner, keeping an 11th defensive lineman and/or a sixth linebacker may make more sense. Additionally, it would likely be far easier to sneak Wildgoose or McCloud, or both, onto the practice squad than it would be to get Darryl Johnson or Tyrel Dodson to the 16-man unit.
Wildgoose and McCloud are not only competing against each other for a roster spot, but they’re also competing to show Buffalo’s brass that the roster spot should exist. In order to do that, one of them will need to continue their emergence with a strong game against Green Bay. Even that may not be enough.
Nick McCloud INT pic.twitter.com/s2P2XxZA8n
— smart football guy (@billsfilmstuff) August 26, 2021
Davis Webb and Jake Fromm are not necessarily competing for a spot on Buffalo’s 53-man roster; they’re more so fighting for a role on that of another team.
Given just how deep and talented the Bills’ roster is, it’s hard to imagine the team keeping a third rostered quarterback who will be a consistent gameday inactive. That spot could simply be used elsewhere. Thus, the extent of Webb or Fromm’s role with this year’s team would likely be as a practice squad quarterback who only sees the field in extremely extenuating circumstances.
Either quarterback could, however, play their way onto another team’s roster with a strong performance against Green Bay. If either passer flashes, they could potentially be traded by Buffalo before its roster cut down, or join another team’s active roster after failing to make the Bills’ 53.
Given both of their performances thus far, this is a bit difficult to imagine. Neither quarterback has looked particularly strong throughout the first two weeks of the preseason. Fromm has arguably had higher highs, including a nice 42-yard pass to Marquez Stevenson that prompted a fourth-quarter comeback against the Lions, but he’s completed just 55% of his passes (this, granted, in the face of consistent pressure). Webb has also struggled despite displaying some athleticism, giving up two fumbles against Chicago.
Both have a strong case for making the Bills’ practice squad – Webb thanks to what he brings off the field, and Fromm due to the fact that he was a recent draft pick – but one couldn’t blame either of them for preferring to be on an active roster elsewhere. Fromm, thanks to his age (23) and name-value from college, likely has more trade value than Webb, but he’ll need to show something against the Packers in order to fetch the Bills a day-three pick in return.